May 2013 ISM Manufacturing Survey Slips Slightly Into Contraction

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The ISM Manufacturing survey for May 2013 slipped slightly into contraction after being in expansion territory for five months in a row. The New Orders sub-index which historically correlates to the economy expansion is also in contraction.

The ISM Manufacturing survey index (PMI) fell from 50.7 to 49.0 (50 separates manufacturing contraction and expansion). This was below expectations which were between 49.5 and 50.9.

This index has been in a general downtrend since mid 2011. As this is the fourth month of decline, the trend is “less good”.

Relatively deep penetration of this index below 50 has normally resulted in a recession.

The noisy Backlog of Orders fell- from 53.0 to 48.0. Backlog growth is an indicator of improving conditions; a number below 50 indicates contraction. Backlog accuracy does not have a high correlation against actual data.

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector contracted in May for the first time since November 2012, and the overall economy grew for the 48th consecutive month, say the nation’s supply executives in the latest Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®.

The PMI™ registered 49 percent, a decrease of 1.7 percentage points from April’s reading of 50.7 percent, indicating contraction in manufacturing for the first time since November 2012 and only the second time since July 2009. This month’s PMI™ reading is at its lowest level since June 2009, when it registered 45.8 percent. The New Orders Index decreased in May by 3.5 percentage points to 48.8 percent, and the Production Index decreased by 4.9 percentage points to 48.6 percent. The Employment Index registered 50.1 percent, a slight decrease of 0.1 percentage point compared to April’s reading of 50.2 percent. The Prices Index registered 49.5 percent, decreasing 0.5 percentage point from April, indicating that overall raw materials prices decreased from last month. Several comments from the panel indicate a flattening or softening in demand due to a sluggish economy, both domestically and globally.

Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 10 are reporting growth in May in the following order: Printing & Related Support Activities; Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Fabricated Metal Products; Wood Products; Furniture & Related Products; Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; Machinery; and Paper Products. The six industries reporting contraction in May — listed in order — are: Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Transportation Equipment; Chemical Products; Plastics & Rubber Products; Computer & Electronic Products; and Primary Metals.

It is interesting to note that ISM Manufacturing represents less than 10% of USA employment, and approximately 20% of the business economy. Historically, it could be argued that the production portion of ISM Manufacturing leads the Fed’s Industrial Production index – however the correlation is not strong when looking at trends.

New orders have direct economic consequences. Expanding new orders is a relatively reliable sign a recession is NOT imminent. However, New Orders contraction have given false recession warnings twice since 2000. This subindex is in a long term downtrend – and remains close to contraction.

However, holding this and other survey’s Econintersect follows accountable for their predictions, the following graph compares the hard data from Industrial Products manufacturing subindex (dark blue bar) and US Census manufacturing shipments (lighter blue bar) to the ISM Manufacturing Survey (pink bar).

Comparing Surveys to Hard Data

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Caveats on the use of ISM Manufacturing Index:

This is a survey, a quantification of opinion – not facts and data. However, as pointed out above, certain elements of this survey have good to excellent correlation to the economy. Surveys lead hard data by weeks to months, and can provide early insight into changing conditions.

Many use ISM manufacturing for guidance in estimating manufacturing employment growth. Econintersect has run correlation coefficients for the ISM manufacturing employment and the BLS manufacturing employment data series above going back to 1988, using quarterly data. The coincident correlations are actually negative, but poor (r = -0.2 to -0.4 for various time periods examined). See here for definitions.

Before 2000 the ISM employment data had a weak positive correlation to the BLS data 4 to 7 quarters later (r values above 0.6). Since 2000 the correlations for ISM manufacturing employment as a leading indicator for the BLS manufacturing employment have been between 0 and 0.3 for r (correlation coefficient). These values define correlations as none to poor.

In other words, ISM employment index is not useful in understanding manufacturing jobs growth. The graph below shows BLS manufacturing employment month-over-month gains against the ISM Manufacturing employment index.

Indexed to Jan 2000 – Comparison of the ISM Manufacturing Employment Subindex (blue line) to BLS Manufacturing Employment (red line) – all data seasonally adjusted

The ISM employment index appears useful in predicting turning points which can lead the BLS data up to one year.

Related Articles

All Articles on Institute of Supply Management Surveys

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